Saturday, March 14, 2020

A Time-Traveller's Letter

Hello to the me who is just about to graduate from high school. This is your older self from 2020. I am writing this letter as part of a time travel experiment that resets my timeline to this date; although you should retain all of my memories if all goes according to plan, this letter is a backup. Diagrams and instructions for how to build the time machine and repeat the experiment are appended to this letter, in case you need to reboot your life again and this timeline doesn’t work out.
Also enclosed, find a picture of us at my age, holding a picture of us at your age, located in front of a building that does not exist in your time, both as verification that I am the future you, and just for the general wow factor. As further verification, in the next few months, the Berlin Wall and the rest of the Iron Curtain will fall, at about the time that your hallmates are playing the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine”, which has not yet been released. A condensed personal and general history of the future follows […].
Here are thirty people close to you whose lives you can save or who you can spare from years of suffering with ten minutes or less of effort at the right time […] If you’re not worried about altering the timeline in big ways, here are ten points at which a small change could have produced a big change for the better[…]
Be on the lookout for other opportunities to help other people in a simple way, especially when you are in a rush to do something else. It is better to be kind and useful than to appear clever or funny or cool. There will be many more opportunities for the latter than the former in this life.
Someone needs to help, and you are someone. If something needs to be done, and you cannot find anyone else to do it, you have just volunteered.
Run toward what you fear. You fear will shrink and you will grow.
Procrastination, writer’s block, and general inertia will eat up an unconscionable amount of your life until you realize that these are just illusory. There’s nothing to them but what you pretend is there. There is always a best thing that needs to be done at this time, so do that, and then do the next thing.
Start keeping a journal. Take more photos. Write a targeted number of words every day—1000 words a day will stack like bricks into a book. You’re a good writer, but if you revise your writing, then B papers will become A papers. Start writing earlier to allocate time for that. Editing is like Photoshop or darkroom work—it will allow you to pull things into focus or blur them, dodge and burn, until the work looks like what you want it to.
You’re naturally cautious, so you should generally say yes to every opportunity. You’re generally cooperative, so you should generally say no to sales pitches. The harder someone tries to sell you, the less worthwhile the product. Learn how to sell gently.
You like to pretend to be uptight, to the point where you forget it’s an act sometimes. Pretend to be extremely laid-back and mellow instead and see how that goes.
Take the harder class; it’s easier. Take the better-paying job; it’s no harder.
If someone is better at something you have been doing a long time, that’s not a reason to stop doing it, thinking you’ll never be as good as they are. It’s an opportunity to shortcut by dissecting what they’re doing or to collaborate with them. A lot of the time, you can just ask them to show you how they do it or what you’re doing wrong. Deliberate practice with a goal will get you past the plateaus you’re currently experiencing in e.g., your performance in tennis or musical instruments. Anybody who’s great at anything started out sucking at it, probably worse than you.
Also, find a way to learn all of that trade school/shop class stuff. It’s unconscionable not to know how to repair or build things, and it will teach you the importance of good craftsmanship.
All of your athletic problems boil down to three things. When you do something, you must turn your whole body to it. When you swim, turn your whole body and not just your neck to breathe. When you serve or hit a forehand, twist your whole body. When you punch or kick, turn your whole body’s weight to it like a spring. Second, you are uncomfortable having your hips above your head or falling in any way. Practice those things a thousand times, or until that concern disappears. A thousand dives off the high dive. A thousand headstands. A thousand trust falls. Third, an hour of yoga very week will fix that problem with your knees and the tightness in your back.
In the next couple of years, you are on course to make three small mistakes that are very costly: failing to take the seminar with your advisors and instead taking one with the hostile guy, going to grad school in Ohio rather than California, and failing to build up an immunity to iocaine powder prior to getting in a death match with the Sicilian. At least you don’t get embroiled in a land war in Asia, though the country does.
I hope this helps and wish you (me) the best of all timelines.

Originally posted on Quora here:

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Some thoughts on the pandemic and panic

1. Fear and anxiety work on a bell curve. Up to a point, you're more and more likely to take action. Above that point, you're less and less likely to do so. It's good to ride the peak of that wave without going over.
2. This is going to last longer than you think it will. For the US, the pandemic clock started ticking on or around March 1st. We're currently in Week 2. If we're lucky, we have about 10 weeks to go for the peak of this. Do the things that you are able to sustain for 10+ weeks.
3. Those safety measures need to be done at a hygienic level. You don't have to go off-grid or live in a biocontainment suit. You need to wash your hands as well and as often as you should have been doing all along (but who does that in normal times, really?), stop going to public events, and live quietly at home for a while.
4. If you're under the age of 50, are not a healthcare worker, and are not immunocompromised, there's little threat to your life individually, nor to the lives of your children. Even if you are in one of the three high-risk groups above, you are more likely than not to survive coronavirus.
5. There is, however, an enormous threat to the lives of the surrounding community. It's not an epidemic they'll be talking about in 1000 years, like the Black Plague, which killed 1/3rd of Europe, but it's like the 1918 flu, which killed 2% and which we're still talking about 100 years later. Do not fool around.
6. The disease is enormously contagious, and is most contagious before symptoms hit. This is what makes it a systemic or community risk, rather than an idiosyncratic or individualized risk.
7. We're going to get through this one way or another. We will get through it best if we can all be rational and thoughtful about our neighbors and our community (oh no).
8. A mediocre effort sustained for 10 weeks beats a maximum effort of 1 week followed by 9 weeks of neglect. Individually mediocre efforts coupled with an excellent national and community effort will see us through.
BONUS: This is going to happen again, sooner rather than later, so maybe give Medicare for All or another universal health care program a bit of a push through Congress, so we're better prepared next time.